I am obsessed with work.
I realise in making this claim that I risk alienating those followers who have worked long and hard to bring a little balance into their own working lives and those of their colleagues, so let me qualify the statement.
I am not obsessed with working. I believe that for the most part people spend too many of their waking hours in factories, shops and offices and that many of these hours are not really productive. There is a difference between business and busyness. Throughout Europe and perhaps the UK in particular, this is further exacerbated by appending the start and end of each working day with as much as two hours travel in either direction. The promise of home working has also yet to deliver in my experience.
No, my obsession is with work itself. The way that places of work are organised and structured, the way that business is run and won, the increasing importance of work in people’s lives and most crucially the business of deploying and developing staff.
This preoccupation started early for me. I left school at aged 16 with the four ‘O’ Levels I needed to secure my job with a high street bank. Almost from the first day I was more interested in what was happening on the office side of the business than anything the customers might be getting up to. I was particularly puzzled by the way tone group of people apparently called management, would talk to another group of people apparently called staff. These interactions were usually terse, unfriendly affairs consisting of managers more or less ordering staff to do certain tasks which the staff then carried out to whatever minimum standard was necessary to get by. Looking back it all seemed quite adversarial with little sense of mutual success.
In my naivety I thought that people were people and that if you expected people to work hard and achieve results then you ought to treat them well; ‘Do unto others….’ and all that. This being the early 1980s however, high street banking was characterised by complacency and laziness, knowing that customers would continue to come and profits continue to flow however the business was run, and however its people were treated.
The de-regulation of the industry and the consequent increased competition in the 1990s changed all this. Now there was a need for staff to provide superior service lest the customers take their business elsewhere. People working in banks needed to become sales people and actively promote the bank’s products and services. Jobs which had been thought of as secure for a lifetime were now the subject of continual uncertainty.
The whole backdrop to the business changed irreversibly, but the management style did not. Those who struggled to make the change from bank clerk to sales person were told to shape up and get with the times. They were sent on sales training courses and if that didn’t work they were sent on them again. The pressure was on to perform; crude targets and incentives were introduced. Managers were hauled before directors and told to try harder, Staff were hauled before managers and told to try harder, or else.
Yours truly watched all this unfold with a sort of morbid fascination.
Of course banking as an industry was not alone in experiencing change of this kind or on this scale. Globalisation, the march of technology, downsizing and so on were all transforming the whole landscape of work and organisational life.
By now I was working in Personnel and had been introduced to the world of training and development. I’d had some exposure to management and team leader type roles and was seen to have an ability to get people on side and achieving results. As a management trainer I was similarly able to press the right buttons and to help people access their ability. I guess I was coaching them although I had no idea at the time that there even was such a thing, certainly not in the world of work.
In 1995 I was given the opportunity to attend a Performance Coaching course run by Sir John Whitmore and his firm Performance Consultants. As I learnt about coaching principles and practices I came to realise that coaching was simply a way of describing an approach to people at work that I had always believed in but had never been able to articulate. It offered an explanation as to why certain of my managers had been able to get the best from me and why others had left me exhausted and scanning the job advertisements. Coaching described a management style that I could see was essential for the turbulent times that were coming.
From that point forward coaching became the lynchpin of all my training and development work. I left banking and established my own consultancy practice where I found myself extolling the virtues of coaching and high performance even when I’d essentially been hired to teach Time Management or Presentation Skills.
Eventually I decided to grasp the nettle and focus my practice on teaching managers how to coach and this has been my focus and passion to this day. All of my work in this area has informed the ideas in these blog posts.
I hope you find ideas here that will help you take your coaching approach forward in your own unique way so that you can positively impact the working lives of those around you.